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Sometimes, the truth must be told

There are a couple of major Republican honchos in this town who quietly recall watching the Buffalo Senate debate between Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican Rick Lazio back in 2000.

From their seats in the WNED-TV studios, they knew Lazio faced a crucial test when asked about his belief that the upstate economy had "turned the corner."

"I think my opponent would like people to believe that upstate is a vast economic wasteland," Lazio replied. "It is not. In fact, there's been great progress."

Clinton countered by suggesting her opponent is "orbiting another planet."

On that crisp September evening, the two GOP types looked at each other and pronounced the race over. Lazio's failure to acknowledge upstate's economic doldrums, they agreed, had sealed his fate.

Fast forward six years, when Democratic gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer addressed the same issue.

"If you drive from Schenectady to Niagara Falls, you'll see an economy that is devastated," he said a few days ago. "It looks like Appalachia."

Now consider Gov. George Pataki's response to Spitzer's observation.

"Comparing it to Appalachia is inappropriate and an insult to the hardworking people of upstate New York," the governor said.

Potential Republican opponents Bill Weld and Randy Daniels chimed in, too. Weld said Spitzer "likened upstate to those Walker Evans photographs showing kids with rickets and missing teeth."

Daniels' spokesman called the comparison "wrong, and it's troubling."

We can only speculate about the conversations between our Republican honchos over the past few days. They are strong Pataki supporters, like what they see in the Republican gubernatorial field and acknowledge that certain words and terms can evoke strong emotions.

But these two veterans will also tell you that once again, the upstate economy may very well prove to be the deciding issue in a statewide election and that the winner will somehow find the right words to talk about it.

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* The County Legislature vote a few days ago on a controversial local law requiring apprentice programs for construction firms seeking work from Erie County demonstrates how the tiny Conservative Party may have eclipsed Republicans in County Hall muscle.

Good old-fashioned political pressure -- Conservative style -- proved the deciding factor in the bill's defeat.

"I believe these are the kinds of things the Conservative Party should stand for and influence when we endorse these legislators," said Conservative Party Chairman Ralph Lorigo. "This is a perfect example."

Backing by the Conservative Party is coveted by most candidates for office in Erie County, including Democrats. Indeed, eight legislators ran on the Conservative line last fall. And when Lorigo got on the phone before a vote that looked good for Democrat Tim Kennedy's bill, things changed. The Democrats controlling the Legislature, he said, were reminded about their Conservative endorsements.

The apprentice effort is expected to be revived with some tweaking. But tweaking might mean major overhaul to Lorigo, who plans to ride herd on the next bill, too. "Not only will I be watching, I'll be in touch with these people," Lorigo said.

* Leonard Roberto, founder of the anti-incumbent Primary Challenge group, received lots of attention last week for announcing a drive to topple icons Paul Tokasz in the Assembly and Dale Volker in the Senate.

But Roberto says his real goal -- recruiting 1,000 people to run for party committee posts -- has been overlooked. His effort to attract new people who will break with party leaders will prove daunting at the least, but will merit attention from politics watchers everywhere.

* Democrat Jack Davis will officially announce his second shot at Republican Congressman Tom Reynolds on Thursday.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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